Artists and spectators alike crowded the Central Bank of The Bahamas Wednesday night to hear the announcement that Jackson Petit-Homme had been chosen by the judges as the winner of their 28th Annual Central Bank Art Competition in the Open Category.
Petit-Homme is no stranger to the feeling — he’s walked away with recognition in both the high school and open categories before, winning the High School Category twice, coming second in the Open Category twice, and winning the 3D portion of the Open Category as well, among honorable mentions.
But this is the first time he’s won since the High School and Open Categories were split three years ago when Heino Schmid came on as curator of the Central Bank art gallery space. The new prizes of $7,000 and an offer to hold a solo exhibition by the winner in the space are exciting prospects for the artist who we haven’t seen a solo show from before.
“The advantage of having the prize money is to use it as funds for materials for this show,” Petit-Homme points out. “Jumping off the piece I’ve done for this competition, it’s going to be a continuation. I think I’ve found the direction I want to go in.”
This year, the theme for the Open Category was “So So Beautiful”, chosen by Ian Fernander, the Head of Administration for Central Bank. Petit-Homme’s winning piece,”Beautiful Monsters”stood out from other competitors, the judges said, because of its flawless technique and approach to the theme which kept drawing their gazes back.
“As soon as the announcement for the theme was made, I thought about the piece for an entire year and only in the last month did I make it,” he says.” Lately I’ve been thinking about my Haitian connection, and also the mythologies within Haitian culture, and creating my own mythology out of these in a way. But I’m also thinking about challenging beauty in it.”
Petit-Homme’s piece depicts, in a flurry of subdued, dreamy colors, parents with human and animal features looking upon their newborn–indeed, the opposing forces of beauty and monstrosity provide tension that challenges its viewers but presents a resolution in the child’s story beyond the frame. Though fantastical, the piece resists high fantasy, and instead draws upon folklore and magical realist roots to pierce the veil of reality and touch upon the inherent “what if” in the ideal of beauty.
Petit-Homme will be following in the footsteps of recent winners Lavar Munroe(2009 winner with the theme”Redefining the Portrait”) and Omar Richardson (2010 winner with the theme “A Mighty Push Forward”) — Munroe’s show at the gallery was hugely successful, and Richardson’s upcoming show in December will also prove to be spectacular.
Curator of the space, Heino Schmid, looks forward to Petit-Homme’s compelling solo show as the artist is known for both his painting and video installation work.
“I’m really happy mainly because I’m excited to see what he does with his solo show,” says Schmid. “He’s a prolific artist and works in a variety of mediums. I hope he’s ambitious as he wants to be with both the content and medium of work.”
Indeed, the offer of a solo show remains optional for the artist to take — however, it is usually expected that the prize money can help winning artists purchase supplies for a dynamic solo show that can have great financial and professional outcomes.
To Schmid, the pieces submitted to the Open Category Competition act somewhat like proposals for a solo show and should reflect that ambition — which both he and the judges did not see strong evidence of this year around.
“I think a lot of people who enter this competition enjoy the one-off quality of their work and it’s difficult to access how they would develop an exhibition based on the pieces you see here,” says Schmid.
“I really want people to think in terms of not just winning this–I want them to look past winning this and also see their solo show as the actual culmination of this competition–a stepping stone to this grander gesture.”
With a theme of “So So Beautiful”, artists produced pieces that attempted to literally illustrate the theme– but like all competitions, the pieces which stand out always provide fresh and unusual perspectives to the theme or challenge the theme, which only a handful of pieces took the chance on.
“I think the weight of the prize makes you want to be the good student, meet the criteria and check the boxes to make sure you win, which may need some rethinking,” says Schmid.”There are more than a few very literal pieces instead of using the theme as a jumping-off point.”
The result is an overall exhibition that may not entirely lack technique but does lack ambition, and after three years of lackluster response to themed exhibitions, Schmid is ready to further change the way the competition functions in the changing Nassau art scene.
Indeed, for many years the Central Bank of The Bahamas was the closest thing to a gallery space Nassau had, holding shows that would launch or define artists’ careers. Likewise, their Annual Art Competition acted as a salon-style space for both up-and-coming and established artists to present their work. No doubt, it will always be regarded as a major player in the history of art in The Bahamas.
Yet the past decade came with a surge of new gallery spaces and The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas with their biannual National Exhibition, provided more avenues for artists to not only hold shows–but to gain more control of how their pieces were presented and who they were presented with.
Though the Central Bank remains an active part of the art scene, Schmid points out that its role as a gallery space has shifted, and it’s time to shift the Annual Art Competition as well.
He already started by separating the High School and Open Categories three years ago and providing themes, hoping that the they would provide more of a compelling and unified space for up-and-coming and established artists to play and hold meaningful conversations with one another.
“One of the things I want to do with the competition is to develop a group exhibition that provides a relevant context for work and provides an opportunity for artists not to win an amount of money but to be in communication with each other,”says Schmid.
As of yet, though, Schmid has not been impressed with the turn out, leading him to think about tweaking the Annual Art Competition further to bring out the strong work he knows exists in the art community.
“I just want the show to be stronger — I want artists to pick up the challenge and baton from the last winner and build on it,” he says. “The exhibitions are never as ambitious as I want them to be. I am more than anything an art lover, and I want to be blown away by an art exhibition.”
“I like to think momentum is building a little bit and in the future when we set a precedent with an exceptionally strong exhibition that will force people to reevaluate their systems and their practices a little.”
The pieces entered into the 28th Annual Central Bank Art Competition in the Open Category are on display in the Central Bank of The Bahamas until October 28th. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Call 302 2600 for more information.
The Nassau Guardian
Arts & Culture
Published October 7, 2011